The Indian Air Force is inching closer to its dream of flying the Apache state-of-the-art attack and Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, a feature that it was missing drastically.
IAF aircrew has started training in the US on the Apache AH-64 E and Chinook CH 47F (I) helicopters, which are set for delivery in March and July onwards respectively.
Way back in September 2015, India signed a nearly USD 3 billion deal for purchase of 22 Apache and 15 Chinook choppers with American aviation giant Boeing and the US government.
The contract has a clause to place follow-on orders for 11 more Apaches and seven extra Chinooks. Interestingly, the Army is not taking on the follow-on order.
The defence ministry had last year approved the procurement of six Apache along with weapons systems from Boeing at a cost of Rs 4,168 crore for the Army. This will be its first fleet of attack choppers of the force and followed a brief fight with the IAF.
The IAF was of the opinion that it should control the attack helicopters but the Army was adamant to have its own. The helicopter deal was not an easy one. It has survived over 10 price validity extensions from the American side and it was a push by the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar that finally set the ball rolling.
While the Chinook helicopter deal is a direct one with the US firm, the one for Apache is a hybrid. A part of the Apache deal was signed with Boeing for the helicopter and the other with the US government, under foreign military sales route, for its weapons, radars and electronic warfare suites.
Sources said that the first Chinook helicopter will be delivered to India in March 2019 and the first Apache will be delivered in July.
Boeing has said that Indian industry partners such as Dynamatics are building large sections of Chinook, and the Tata Boeing joint venture in Hyderabad is building the complete fuselage of the Apache.
The Apache would be based at Pathankot and Jorhat.
Considered to be one of the most deadly attack helicopters in the world, Boeing has sold over 2,200 machines since 1984. The Indian Apache are the latest version of the attack helicopters that have seen action in Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan.
The Apache comes with 30mm cannon under the nose which can fire 1200 rounds in less than two minutes.
Also equipped are the 70 mm rockets which can be guided or unguided. The Apache can carry 80 of them in one go besides the Hellfire missiles.
Together with the avionics onboard, these missiles can identify, track, and hunt targets in the dead of night.
The Apache will be the first pure attack helicopter in India’s possession. While India has been operating the Russian Mi 35, on the verge of retirement, it was an assault chopper.
It was designed to carry troops into heavily defended territories whereas Apache is an out and out attack helicopter. IAF sources said that the Apache will be a game changer.
The acquisition of Chinook is yet another shot in the arm for the IAF. It is a multi-role, vertical-lift platform, which is used for the transport of troops, artillery, equipment and fuel. It is also used for humanitarian and disaster-relief operations, in missions such as transportation of relief supplies and mass evacuation of refugees.